Meal Planning 101: Plan for a Whole Month

Make your month a little easier by planning all your meals at one time.

Meal Planning for a Whole Month: Make your month a little easier by planning all your meals at one time.

In case you missed the posts, we’ve already addressed the methods for weekly and bi-weekly meal planning. This week we’re tackling the monthly meal plan.

It seems that for many years right around November I feel the need to plan for a whole month. In the summer things are pretty relaxed and weekly is easy enough. But, when we get in the thick of school and holiday events, it’s time to do some mega-planning.

Meal Planning for a Whole Month: Make your month a little easier by planning all your meals at one time.

Create a month-long meal plan.

Here’s the basic method for planning a month of meals at a time:

  1. Print out a calendar for the month. Fill it in with the dates for November.
  2. Plunk down special events and holidays. For us that means two birthdays and Thanksgiving. Those meals will be different than regular nights.
  3. Plug in regular meals, like Friday Pizza Night, that you have every week.
  4. Look at the nights that have activities like hockey practice or play rehearsal. Plan easy meals on those nights. Stumped for ideas? Check out these quick meal ideas.
  5. Start adding meals into the remaining squares, alternating meatless with meat, or varying the proteins from night to night.

That wasn’t hard, was it? Remember you’re not married to this plan. Write it in pencil if it makes you feel less committed. That’s what I do. Feel free to change it up as different things happen throughout the month. By November 30, it may look like a very complicated football play, but that’s okay.

The meal plan is designed to help you. To really be successful in life and serving great meals, you need to be flexible. A meal plan can give you direction without being the law.

Meal Planning for a Whole Month: Make your month a little easier by planning all your meals at one time.

Obviously, doing a big freezer cooking session helps one plan for a month in advance, but it can be done without a full freezer, too.

On Friday over on Life as MOM I shared¬†a FREE, downloadable, freezer cooking plan¬†to get you through the busy holiday nights. Here’s the meal plan to go with it. While we made double batches of many meals, they can be strung out over several weeks and combined with different side dishes so that it doesn’t seem monotonous or repetitive.

November Meal Plan

seasonal vegetables denotes “whatever’s in the produce box”, an asterisk* means it’s from the freezer

4. Sweet and Spicy Joes*, Veggie Tray, Salad

5. Rice and Beans with Toppings

6. Soft Tacos*, leftover beans and rice

7. Shepherd’s Pie*, seasonal vegetables

8. Skillet Pork Chops, Cozy Potato and Cheese Casserole*, seasonal vegetables

9. Bday Boy’s Choice

10. Ginger Pork Lettuce Wraps*, Potstickers* with Dipping Sauce

11. Six Layer Nachos*, fruit salad

12. Chicken Enchilada Bake*, rice, beans

13. Meatloaf*, Dubliner-Stuffed Potatoes*, seasonal vegetables

14. Bday Girl’s Choice

15. Bean and Cheese Nacho Bake*, Mexican Rice, salad

16. Pizza Night

17. Rice Bowls with Chicken, Potstickers*, and seasonal vegetables

18. Hamburgers*, Veggie Tray, Salad

19. Red and Green* Pasta Bar, Salad, Garlic Bread

20. Swedish Meatballs*, Mashed Potatoes*, seasonal vegetables

21. Asian Chicken Salad with Noodles

22. Thanksgiving

23. Pizza Night

24. Soup Night, Good Bread

25. Lasagne, Salad, Bread

26. Rice Bowls

27. Taco Night*

28. Pasta with Red Sauce*, seasonal vegetables, rolls

29. Sweet and Spicy Joes*, Oven Fries, seasonal vegetables

30. Pizza Night

I’m sure there are lovers and haters of a monthly meal plan.

Which are YOU?

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Comments

  1. I’d fall in the hater category (such a harsh description!) since my life and schedule is nowhere near predictable enough for this. If I had a set schedule, then maybe. I’m really curious, though, that Thanksgiving is listed for that Thursday, but nothing else indicates leftovers. Do you just not have leftovers (gasp! the sacrilege!), or are you figuring to use them up for lunches rather than a dinner meal?

    • We often don’t have left overs after thanksgiving. It’s sad but we end up making just what we need. I know several that make a weekly list and don’t plan it by day so they can pick and choose from the menu. That way they know what their making and have the supplies for it already. Makes shopping easier.

  2. Love it! Especially when it’s cold outside and I can stay in and not worry about supplies for meals. Love to go to my freezer or pantry and have something to prepare. Thanks for the ideas.

  3. I love doing a monthly calendar. I don’t do it exactly for the month though. We go shopping the second paycheck of the month, this month it will be our monthly shopping trip on the 17th. Our month starts then and I’ll plan meals accordingly. We’ll grab milk/bread/eggs every two weeks at Costco and fresh veggies every week at Wegmans. Otherwise the the big shopping is done once a month.

  4. I want to eat at your house.
    We alternate between weekly and bi- weekly planning, but without a calendar. We cook on saturday and eat as we want all week.

  5. I am a lover of freezer/make ahead/batch cooking. The biggest reason I love it is saving money while eating great food. I was able to fix a month of freezer meals and breakfast for my family of 2 adults and 1 teen for only 292.00. This is not including fresh salad, milk, and sandwich fixings for school lunch. This is way better than months past. I shop at BJ’s and Wegmans. Plus, a Walmart run. I have enjoyed the meals. I’m going to try just a two week session next time:)

  6. I’m a fan, though I only plan two weeks out at a time with a little bit of a forward look to the two weeks after… I shop twice a month and truly try to think of everything in that one shopping trip. Any time I can save myself from being in a store saves me money as I’m like you, I love to grocery shop and I love buying food! I’m not big on the stocking of the freezer since I don’t have a huge freezer and I cook for people for a living, but I’ve found what works really well for us if if I’m making one batch of something, I make two and freeze one for later use. This keeps 3-4 meals in the freezer at all times and saves oodles of time. I can utilize frozen meals in future two week rotations and they are a lifesaver. Thanks for another great blog, Jessica… I love your blog!

  7. I neither a lover nor a hater — I kind of do both. I start with a monthly calendar and fill in important events (holidays or birthdays) and nights I know have to be something especially quick. Then, because the rest of our weekly schedule varies without warning, I plan about a week at a time.

  8. I’ve found it just doesn’t work for me to plan more than a week’s, sometimes even 4-5 days, of meals at one time. I find myself struggling for ideas to fill that many days or if I do make a more detailed plan I feel boxed in. However, the best big box store and Trader Joe’s are farther away from my house than I care to drive on a weekly basis so I’ve worked out a system that meets our needs.

    Instead of filling out a specific meal plan at the beginning of the month I make a list of 15-20 meals. This list includes our standards as well as a new recipes I’ve pulled out of cookbooks or found on the internet (I’m also setting aside monthly time to browse my cookbooks). Then I make a grocery list for my monthly trips to the stores mentioned above. So I have ideas written down, a stocked pantry, and this still leaves quite a few days in the month for experimentation, leftovers, or to allow for a change of plan.

    It also helps that I have a few meals I alternate on a bi-weekly basis. Pizza or tacos on Friday, meatloaf or enchiladas (both from the freezer – yay!) on Wednesday, etc.. That way I filling those days is a no-brainer. I’ve also learned how to keep a pantry with versatile ingredients which helps a lot. I think most of us use the same basic meal componets for many different meals so being tuned into that helps a lot.

  9. LOVER!!!!!!!!! I especially love it when we actually FOLLOW the plan. ;)

  10. Lover of meal planning, but our schedules are such that I pretty much have components in our freezer to complete meals as needed and haven’t been planning out the whole month. I guess in a way it’s “themed” – Meatless Monday, Poultry Tuesday/Thursday, Pork or Meat on Wednesday and Sunday, Pizza or takeout on Friday and leftovers or eating out on Saturday.

    I cook the meats when I get them and put them in the freezer, as well as beans and rice. Then I can just pull out what I need in the morning and pull together soup, stew, tqcos, casserole, etc. for dinner that night. I write down on our calendar each day what we ate so I know the next week not to repeat.

    I’ve done the planned out month successfully before, but right now this is what’s working for us.

  11. I always plan for the month – I love the flexibility of it. I do one shopping trip for the month and then IF I don’t want to cook what is on the menu for that night I’ll look at a different day for something I do want to fix – I know I have everything I need! While I plan for the month, I post a weekly menu plan on my blog every Monday.
    Hugs –
    Carol @ arewethereyet

  12. I’ve never tried a monthly meal plan because I feel like if I buy what’s on sale the first week of the month, I’d have to buy enough to get us through the month. And we’d get sick of chicken or pork chops or whatever was on sale that week.

    But if I just planned a whole bunch of meals without regard to the sales, we’d spend a whole lot more than usual.

    Thoughts? :) I guess if I were planning from my freezer, it wouldn’t be as big of a deal.

  13. I love having a monthly meal plan. For me it is more of a meal list. I don’t assign meals to specific days, but just cross them off the list as I make them. I also jot down breakfast and lunch ideas so I have a visual reminder of what types of things I need to buy to make those smooth, too. With limited pantry and fridge space I can’t really shop for more than about 10 days at a time, but maybe some day I’ll have the option of doing once a month shopping. Costco being so convenient is a blessing and a curse. :)

  14. I love having a plan. I usually plan more on a 1-2 week schedule though and my biggest freezer items are cooked ground beef and cooked shredded chicken that make meal prep easier. My goal over the next month though is to get a bunch of complete meals in the freezer though because baby #5 is due in Jan and there is a slight chance of me going on bedrest before then….I used to do this all the time when I was home full time and miss it.

  15. I love the idea of planning once a month. But it doesn’t actually happen here! :)

    One month I got the whole thing written down, and then just adjusted for what was on sale each week. If I got a great deal on hamburger, we brought those meals up a little closer. If I didn’t have any chicken left, we pushed those meals out of the way & switched with others until the chicken went on sale. One thing I learned is, EVERYTHING goes on sale eventually. In our small town, the stores seem to flip-flop from one sale to another, and some months it seems chicken’s on sale SOMEWHERE every week. :) So I try to have some things in the pantry & freezer, and get by until the sale catches up to me.

    Right now, we have a 10- and a 7-year-old. That makes our schedule pretty set – we always have time Monday to cook an involved meal; Tuesday is choir practice so the kids eat with the babysitter; Wednesday my husband picks up the kids while I work late and he feeds them; Thursday & Friday we all get home right at dinnertime, so those are quick & simple meal days or crock pot dinners. :) It’s working! Thankfully – I kind of like eating. ;)

    There’s a list of meals and a grocery list on the fridge, so everyone can see what’s happening food-wise that day. I have had a list of what’s in the freezer, but it got out of date & I tossed it. Oh well.

    Good tips, and I wish everyone the best in their meal planning! :)
    Emily

  16. I hate it while I am doing it but love it when it’s done! I started doing a monthly meal plan this past Feb and it’s really worked out well for us. I don’t anticipate going back to the weekly one.

  17. Do you make your own potstickers from scratch? I have bought them in bags from the supermarket and had them in restaurants, but have never made them.

    Thanks

  18. I just double or triple a dish as I am cooking it for that night’s dinner. One or two go in the freezer depending on how industrious I am. I only actually plan one day ahead, because I always have something in the freezer. I do cook ground beef ahead for the freezer and marinate chicken breasts. This is easier for me than cooking all at once. I also use the crockpot a lot . There are only four of us, so it’s not that hard. If I had your bunch to cook for I would probably have a melt down.Lol. The cooking to me is easy. It’s the clean up that gets to be boring, even though I clean as I go. I do get help with other things that I like less than cleaning the kitchen, so it’s really a nice trade off. I shouldn’t complain. There are a lot of people less fortunate. We try to give as much as we can to different programs that feed the hungry. It really hurts my heart to know that there are people here in America that don’t get enough to eat.

  19. I tend to plan for the month and then reassess on Saturdays if a sale comes up that is fantastic for a perishable item. Then I “solidify” (as solid as Jello) the plan for the week. (I definitely fall into the Lover category)

  20. I have pinterested my recipes into 10 categories to plan for each week. 7 are for dinners, 2 are for lunches on non-work days , one is for breakfast and I buy peanut butter lunch meat and etc. each week for school/ work lunches. The categories are based on the times that I spend the least at the grocery store. 1 Bean based meals, 2 potato based meals, 3 Rice based meals, 4 breakfast as dinner, 5 fancy sandwiches, 6 Miscellaneous, 7 Summer Salads or winter soups, 8 pasta based dinners, 9 crock pot or fast food. and then there is the breakfast category. Every time I plan meals I pick one from each category and meal planning is both budget conscience, balanced and I have eliminated more expensive ingredients by substituting with something else. I buy the main ingredients in bulk, beans, rice, pasta etc, I pick the sales fruits and veggies and sales meats under $2.00 a pound, I occasionally cheat. I substitute part of my cheese with a lower cost cheese, for example mac and cheese will be made with part cream cheese and part cheddar to help cut the cost so I just need a few specialty items each time maybe a seasoning or condiment different from the usual list. I keep a grocery list where I can just check the boxes with the quantity that I need.

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